Find copyright Infringement

5 steps to take after discovering an image has been stolen

Photo by Soragrit Wongsa, CC0

As the owner of work under copyright protection, discovering unauthorized use of that work can be alarming. Above all, it is important to act quickly and decisively. Here are 5 steps to take in the event of image theft:

1 Determine the motivation for taking action

Decide upon the desired outcome before starting a dialogue with the image user. Who has used the image? Is it a business or personal use? Should the work simply be removed or is it possible to negotiate a fee? Have a goal in mind, and understand that any action taken at this stage can affect the outcome of any proceedings later on.

For example, asking for a certain amount of money or suggesting that attribution will resolve the matter will limit any further courses of action, should the image user not comply and legal action becomes necessary. Consider: “what is my best-case scenario?” What is the true value of this work, and what is its worth according to this specific use? Have a clear idea and understanding of this topic before engaging in negotiations so that a clear set of terms are defined that do the work justice.

2 Collect the evidence

Take screenshots that clearly demonstrate the unauthorized use of the work.  Create a high-resolution screenshot of the webpage; that shows the image and the URL bar on the same screen. Print the page as a time-stamped PDF to obtain conclusive evidence of the exact date that the image was published on the webpage. Additionally, save the webpage to, to preserve third-party evidence.

3 Consider a takedown notice

When not wishing to contact the person or business personally, bypass extensive communication by sending a takedown notice. Takedown notices can be sent directly to the host of the site, or to the person managing the website. In many countries, the ISP (Internet Service Provider) or host is legally required to take compliant action on receipt of a takedown request.

Before sending a DMCA takedown notice, carefully consider if this is the most appropriate course of action.

Find out more about using a takedown notice.

4 Use a service

Now is a good stage to get a service, like Pixsy or a lawyer, involved. Having an experienced advocate to answer any questions can expedite the desired result. It is common for creators to routinely undervalue their work, and, without the weight of an organization or lawyer behind them, they are routinely forced to settle for less than what their work is worth. Experts in the field will fight hard to preserve the value of the work in question.

5 Contact the image user

Upon deciding to approach the image user personally, understand that this can do more harm than good. Taking action without a full knowledge of rights is never advised.

A few factors to consider when contacting an image user:

  • Remain calm and composed, and do not post about the unauthorized use in public forums or on social media.
  • Upon deciding to contact the image user directly, email is the best option – as it provides a written record.
  • Be clear about the purpose of contacting the image user and what is being sought. Make sure to document evidence of image use prior to making contact.
  • As a regular licensor of work with clearly defined standard rates, attach an invoice. 
  • If unsure about the value of the work in question, do not include any mention of a monetary fee in the initial communication. Undervaluing work at this stage can make it difficult, or even impossible to seek fair payment later. Using an tool like FotoQuote may help to determine the value of the work.
  • The best practice in such cases is to contact the image user to communicate the misuse, and to open a line of communication. This helps to gauge whether or not they are going to address the license fee request.
  • Set a deadline with next steps and stick to it.

Key Takeouts:

  1. Upon discovering that copyrighted work has been used without license, it’s important to consider an achievable outcome and to adopt a methodical approach before taking action.
  2. Remember that creative work has an inherent value – do not undervalue it when speaking to an image user.
  3. Reclaiming compensation for misused work can be difficult, without experience. Consider using a lawyer or legal service.
  4. Take care when contacting image users about misuse of work, as this will likely affect the outcome of any legal proceedings that may follow.
  5. Consider the circumstances that led to the infringement, and what if any proactive steps can be taken to identify and manage such situations moving forward.

Return to Academy Home